From the moment Gerard Larrieu saw Gold Trip, he felt he was a horse who could stamp himself a star, but did not expect it to be in the jurisdiction he has made his name.
The son of Outstrip goes in search of history on Tuesday when he strives to become just the fifth horse to win the Melbourne Cup two years in a row.
The 3200-metre Group 1 will be run at Flemington, a world away from Arqana in France, which is where Larrieu, who has operated under the Chantilly Bloodstock banner since 1985, bought Gold Trip for 60,000 euros (AU$100,000) at the August Yearling Sale.
He was a top yearling
“I always check the yearlings in every farm, he was consigned by Haras De Grandcamp, and he was by far their best individual,” Larrieu said of his first thoughts on Gold Trip.
“He was a top yearling bred by a small breeder; a fantastic walker, well-balanced, enough bone and good feet.
“When I left the farm I told my partner, ‘this yearling will be mine’.”
Larrieu bought Gold Trip for Jean-Loius Bouchard, with whom he has shared great success in France, particularly in the French Derby, a race they have won four times, and are presently enjoying good results with the likes of Grand Prix De Paris winner Feed The Flame and classy two-year-old Zorken.
Their relationship is built on trust, which is why Larrieu was comfortable keeping Bouchard in the dark until Gold Trip stepped into the ring at Arqana.
“Before the sale Mr Bouchard asked me, ‘if you had to buy one single yearling, which one would you buy?’,” Larrieu recalled.
“I answered him, ‘I have one, but I will not tell you until he comes into the ring’. I knew it was the only way to keep him excited.
“It’s like a baby before Christmas, a few days later he does not like his toys anymore, and Mr Bouchard likes pedigree but this colt did not have enough pedigree to interest him.
I only paid 60,000 euros for him
“I liked his pedigree because of Dubai Destination and I only paid 60,000 euros for him. I thought I had to pay much more for the best individual of the last day.”
Gold Trip enjoys an Australian connection, with Outstrip being a son of former champion sprinter Exceed And Excel, while his dam Sarava a daughter of Dubai Destination.
She is from the Rainbow Quest mare Sarlisa and is a half-sister to Oasis Dream mare Sarkiyla, who was a Group 3 winner and twice placed at Group 1 level.
Gold Trip was a narrow runner-up over 1600m on debut and finished midfield, again over 1600m, at his only other start as a two-year-old.
Things did not pan out favourably in the Group 1 French Derby (2100m), which was won by Mishriff, but Gold Trip then ran third in the Group 1 Grand Prix De Paris (2400m) before a fourth placing in Sottsass‘ Group 1 Arc De Triomphe (2400m).
He was just below the top horses in Europe
After three more starts in France, including a second in the Group 1 Prix Ganay (2100m) and a third in the Grand Prix De Saint-Cloud (2400m) Australian Bloodstock came knocking with an offer Bouchard found too good to refuse.
“Mr Bouchard is only interested by Group 1 races (and) Gold Trip showed he was just below the top horses in Europe,” Larrieu said.
“We don’t have many opportunities if you don’t have the best, so we decided to sell him.
“He took a bit of time before he adapted to the Australian racing. I was surprised he did not do well earlier; he was sound, had a great turn of foot and is an easy horse to train.”
Last year’s Melbourne Cup win came two starts after a narrow second placing in the Caulfield Cup and while a second placing in the Group 2 Peter Young Stakes (1800m) was the best result from four starts in his initial preparation this year, he is back to his best this spring.
Now trained by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Gold Trip was a dominant winner of the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on October 7, finished third in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) and hit the line well for fifth in last Saturday’s Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m).
Larrieu has experienced great success in Europe, but it was a different kind of special seeing a horse he bought relatively cheaply win the Melbourne Cup and, even though no longer racing in the colours of the man he bought him for, he will be tuning in from the same place he watched last year’s race to watch at 5am, France time, on Tuesday.
“Last year I watched the race in a small restaurant near the Pyrenees run by a couple of Australians, so this year the table is already booked,” Larrieu said.
“I was proud that he won the ‘race of the country’ but I’ll be crying if he succeeds again this year.”
Gold Trip has drawn barrier two in this year’s Melbourne Cup, in which he will be ridden by James Mcdonald with last year’s winning rider Mark Zahra electing to partner another European import, Teofilo gelding Without A Fight.